A busy January sees ambitious shoot schedules.

It’s been a very busy start to the year, and for that, I am truly grateful. So far all my projects have shared one commonality and that is very “ambitious” shooting schedules. This is where the scope of the project can be bigger than the time allotted to get it all done without making some sort of sacrifice. Let me say that this is just been a weird coincidence with my experiences thus far in 2014 and I’m not implying that there is any trend going on. My feeling is that people might consider what they’ve accomplished in the past as privilege to keep adding more to each successive project because they managed to “get through it last time”. The truth is there is a limit to everything and eventually something will have to give. When you try and accomplish too much you either go into overtime which can run up cost of production, or you cut shots and/or entire scenes, or push through without cutting shots or entering over time but you end up significantly compromising on the quality. The rule of thirds always comes into play; cheap, fast, good. Pick two and throw the other one away. Interestingly, the projects I’ve been involved with so far have been picking good and fast which means it’s not coming necessarily cheap. I’ve already been involved with three two camera shoots this month to help get twice the content in the same amount of time. It’s an interesting choice to make because although two camera shoots are a great way to keep quality up, time down, it does cost more, and sometimes, in rare situations two camera shoots can actually be counter productive. I’ll cover this in a separate post later.

A project I did just before Christmas was a corporate video for a large insurance firm. We shot on location using the Alexa camera and it was a pleasure to work on because it wasn’t overly ambitious. It did have a few set shifts and limited shooting times but we had the right amount of labour that saw smooth sailing and ended up finishing one hour early. Happy times. On one hand I wish the rest of the projects were as easy, but I’m always up to a good challenge.

Following this was a short spec spot for Staples through the crowd sourcing business model, Pop Tent. Because it was spec the team kept everything contained to one set-up and one location. Smart. If you are not familiar with Pop Tent, they use crowd sourcing to serve their client’s creative requests. I will be writing an entire post about Pop Tent and similar business models soon because it’s a pretty controversial business model so I expect some sparks to fly in the comments section.

Spec Spot for a commissioned creative from Pop Tent.

Spec Spot for a commissioned creative from Pop Tent.

I eased into 2014 with a simple two camera Alexa shoot for Mattel photographing toys and two toddlers playing in a living room. The director was wise to have one camera trained on each toddler as they played with the toys while they interacted with one another. Toddlers deplete their energy quickly so they have to take naps during the day. Since we didn’t have double twins we chose to have double Alexas rolling to offset the disadvantage of only one pair of toddlers. Nothing was compromised and having two cameras even had us wrapping a couple hours ahead of schedule making for a perfect use of a two camera approach. Nice.

A screen grab from the monitor for Mattel toys.

A screen grab from the monitor for Mattel toys.

Two Alexas cover the toddlers. Repo was faster as both were on 4' sliders.

Two Alexas cover the toddlers. Repo was faster as both were on 4′ sliders.

Wireless focus for both cameras was crucial to tracking moving toddlers.

Wireless focus for both cameras was crucial to tracking moving toddlers.

A "butt-dolly" allows operator, Joe Turner as little more comfort and maneuverability.

A “butt-dolly” allows operator, Joe Turner as little more comfort and maneuverability.

After this shoot things got progressively more challenging. I did a job for Target in which we had two locations to shoot in one day with multiple set-shifts in each location. Again we employed the use of two cameras to help slog through all of the content and it still proved to be a huge day. The job had us depicting various scenes of team-employee interactions on the store floor in various aisles as well as inside corporate headquarters on multiple floors of a large office building. Physically moving locations and set shifting take a heavy toll on your available time to shoot. You can easily add 45 minutes to an hour or more if you have to deal with elevators, security check ins, and loading bays. Once you add lunch and travel time to your schedule you’ve easily blown 3 hours before you even get out of the gate! The ticket to success in these situations is make sure you have enough bodies and make sure everything is on wheels and bring a minimum amount of gear to move around with. With limited time, set-ups need to be fast but still really good so say bye-bye to a smaller crew in these situations.

Shooting at Target. Two cameras ready for a scene in an aisle.

Shooting at Target. Two cameras ready for a scene in an aisle.

Next up was a shoot for the Woman’s Television Network shooting host interstitials for a new TV series that consisted of a bunch of intros and extros.  Our task was to create and establish a blueprint for a look and feel that an in-house staff could follow and repeat for future episodes. The scope of the project required three days and two cameras. Instead, a very limited budget meant cramming the original amount of content into two days using one camera. This resulted in dumping a few locations and far less B-roll material than what was originally intended. What we got was good but there was just too many scenes to plough through and have them all shot in different locations.

Canadian radio and television personality, Josie Dye awaits, "action".

Canadian radio and television personality, Josie Dye awaits, “action”.

This project was on the heels of a pretty large commercial shoot for Miss Vickie chips. We were tasked with shooting 1X30 and 2X15 second spots in a single day. I knew this was going to be one of my biggest challenges because the boards were loaded with set-ups. For the third time in a month production decided to shoot two cameras so we incorporated the use of two Alexas again. The creative called for an evening look so we had to shoot day-for-night. The grips had all the windows along one side of the house blacked out by constructing a 50′ tent using scaffolding towers and 20X20 blacks. The lighting requirements were quite conservative because I was using small incandescent units to create an intimate feel. A 2K was the biggest fixture I used and dedo lights were the smallest. I used practicals at every opportunity to speed-up my lighting time. On turn-arounds, I’d use existing practicals for the background, one key light for the talent, very little fill light and a kicker or two and go. Sometimes A&B cameras shot for coverage but for the most part B cam was shooting product photography on a sweep in another room while A cam was shooting the main action. We also had to shoot chips pouring into a bowl at extreme close up. Shooting chip pours at 120fps can take hours on it’s own but we didn’t have that luxury. We had about 27 setups to get that day, or 2.25 set-ups per hour and that included the time to repo the camera and light the set-up. Insanity but we pushed through. We did go into over time but amazingly not more than an hour.

A screen grab from Miss Vickie's chips.

A screen grab from Miss Vickie’s chips.

A tent blacks out the daylight for an interior "day for night" shoot.

A tent blacks out the daylight for an interior “day for night” shoot.

That was the month, and not a bad one so far. After a brief rest I am prepping and looking forward to shooting a pretty cool music video on the first weekend of February.


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